San Francisco Opera’s 2023 summer season kicked off earlier this month with separate performances of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and Strauss’ “Lady Without a Shadow.”
The German composer’s rarely performed fairytale opera of 1919 is so impressive that it should not be missed. (The company, which premiered in the US in 1959 and was last installed 34 years ago, is supposed to be producing it more often, but it’s clearly an expensive proposition.)
The success of the production’s standing ovation lies in all its different moving parts – horn-like sounds, loud music, abstract sets, dramatic lighting changes, costumes – and a stage designed by the famous British-born designer Directed by Roy Rallo, artist David Hockney exudes energy and thoughtful action.
Sir Donald Runnicles, the former company music director, is one of the world’s most skilled interpreters of Germanic opera literature, and he has helped the company with his leadership of over 100 musicians. That force was with him on opening night as he perused Strauss’ stirring, harmonically unstable but always innovative score, full of warmth and sometimes ineffable beauty as it traced The emotional and spiritual salvation of two lovers.
Based on a play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the story tells of an empress who returns to the spirit world—and turns to stone if her husband doesn’t acquire a human shadow. She spends almost the entire sprawling 3 1/4 hour opera, considered Strauss’s masterpiece, pondering whether to steal a shadow, a key symbol of humanity, from a mortal woman and thereby deprive that woman of fertility child’s abilities.
Realizing the importance of others, will the queen grow from a creature to a person? That’s the point, it’s fun to watch her change and show her empathy.
From beginning to end, Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund portrays the Empress with steely strength, her voice marked by shimmering high notes and a dramatic radiance perfectly suited to Strauss’ music imagine. Her talent rises to a high point at the end of Act 3 when she sings “Nun will ich jubeln” (now I’m going to cheer) as she gets her own shadow as a reward instead of accepting a shadow at the cost of happiness industrious Trader Barak, the Dyeer, and the Dyeer’s Wife (her character’s only name).
Swedish soprano Nina Stemme sang the role of Dyer’s Wife with the same dramatic flair, but also infused her singing with emotional pain, anxiety, despair and joy. As a now penitent wife, divided into two cells in the bowels of the earth, her duet with Barak, sung by Danish baritone John Reuter, begins Act 3, “Mir anvertraut” (Open Your Heart ) is an example of why she received the San Francisco Opera Medal at the end of her opening night opera.
American soprano Linda Watson sang the role of the nurse; and British tenor David Butt Phillips played the emperor, and both delivered profound impact with high-register clarity and heft.
As for Hockney’s sets, they are a welcome marvel of some of his amoeba-like shapes, richly coloured, star-studded backgrounds, and strip-dyed in parts of the dyer scenes in Acts 2 and 3. Cloth, and the sloping, geometric circular walkway in Act One. The lighting casts different shades of light on Hockney’s art, creating a mesmerizing psychedelic effect.
The show will run until June 28th.
A familiar story of a Japanese girl abandoned by her child’s American father, “Madame Butterfly” should be the obvious choice for the leading American opera company, the San Francisco Opera.
But this Puccini classic, often a good first opera for newcomers to the art form, is always full of drama in its two-hour running time compared to many of the company’s previous works. Emotional punch, it was such a disappointment.
Directed by Japanese director Amon Miyamoto, with costumes by the late fashion designer Kenzo Takada, it’s annoyingly underwhelming for two reasons:
Miyamoto enlisted the help of associate director Miro Shimada, who told the story from the perspective of Jo-Jo-San’s children with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander BF Pinkerton, “Trouble,” starring John Charles Quinpo as a non-singing The character, who is present in every scene, hangs over the edge or stands close to the main singer. His presence was distracting and, overheard, prompted some in the audience to consider booing.
Another reason is that Eun Sun Kim, the company’s music director, leads the orchestra in a surprisingly anemic interpretation of the 1902 soundtrack in this new joint production, as if the music is already out of breath — and of course alive — —especially noteworthy when Butterfly, in picking up her baby, commits suicide. And there’s no creepy ending, “no there,” as Gertrude Stein would have said.
Even tenor Michael Fabiano as Pinkerton, soprano Kara San as Butterfly and baritone Lucas Mitchum as US Consul Sharpless lack luster. But some singers in minor roles, including tenor Julius Ahn as marriage broker Goro and Jongwon Han as Bonze, sang with gusto.
Based on a play by David Belasco, set on the hillside overlooking Nagasaki Harbor around 1900, “Madame Butterfly” is considered a haunting lyric song with Japanese elements, but the work is haunting.
Love duet, “Good day” aria, “Humming chorus”, “Flower duet” and Butterfly farewell to her child “You? You? You? You? Piccolo Idio! Not impressed at all.
The show will run until July 1st.
Summer performances conclude with the groundbreaking new opera “El Ultimo Sueno de Frida y Diego” (Frida and Diego’s Last Dream) by Gabriela Lena Frank.
Based on a story by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nylo Cruz, this opera follows the death of renowned artist Frida Kahlo three years after the equally celebrated Mexican artist and muralist Diego Rivera’s wife.
Rivera makes one final wish: to see his dead wife again. who is listening Underworld is.
Lorena Maza directed production. Jorge Ballina designed sets, Eloise Kazan designed costumes, and Victor Zapatero designed lighting. Roberto Kalb, recently named Music Director of the Detroit Opera, makes his debut in this co-commissioned production, the first Spanish-language opera in San Francisco Opera’s 100-year history.
Showings begin Tuesday (not in time for review) and run through June 30.
The company’s 100th anniversary season concludes with a concert with artists on June 16th at 6 pm. Tickets are available.
if you go
What: San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue
Tickets: Available from $10 (standing only) to $464 at the San Francisco Opera Box Office by calling (415) 864-3330 or online at sfopera.com.
Live Options: www.sfopera.com/digital/Livestream/
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